The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 5:34-42

Posted by Dim Bulb on April 14, 2012

Text in red are my additions.

34. But one in the council rising up, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, respected by all the people, commanded the men to be put forth a little while.

Gamaliel, who had been the instructor of St. Paul, was one of the most learned and illustrious of the Jewish teachers. He was the son of Simeon, who received our Lord into his arms (Luke 2:25), and the grandson of the famous Hillel. Some of the Fathers have thought that Gamaliel became a Christian, but the Talmud says he died in Judaism. His death occurred about a.d. 57-58. He was respected by all the people for his great learning and fairness and evenness of judgment. For more on Gamaliel see this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia. Luke Timothy Johnson, in his Commentary on Acts of the Apostles (Sacra Pagina Series) insists-contrary to most commentators-that the portrayal of Gamaliel is not one favorable towards him. Johnson reminds us that Gamaliel, as a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, would have been a part of Jesus condemnation. Also, he would have been one of those taking counsel against Peter and John (Acts 4:13-22). Again, he has just heard St Peter’s declaration that Jesus is alive at the Father’s right hand (Acts 5:31), yet, “he sends the apostles from the room, and with his colleagues formulates a plan of action based upon historical prudence! Fundamentally, he advises a ‘wait and see’ attitude” (pages 102-103. Italics in the original). Johnson goes on to analyze the “plan of action” which Gamaliel counsels in the following verses and comes to the conclusion that he is being portrayed as a hypocrite.

Doctor of the law. The Greek is a compound word, νομοδιδασκαλος (nomodidaskalos); from the Greek nomos (law) and didaskalos (instructor). In ancient parlance a doctor was someone who instructed others concerning doctrine.

35. And he said to them: Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do, as touching these men.

The purpose for the warning becomes clear in the verses which follow.

36. For before these days rose up Theodas, affirming himself to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all that believed him were scattered, and brought to nothing.

Theodas. It is very uncertain who this man was. He surely could not have been the one spoken of by Josephus (Antiq. xx. 5, 1), who instigated an insurrection some twelve years after Gamaliel’s speech (a.d. 44). Some interpreters think that St. Luke and Josephus speak of two different persons of the same name. Others believe that Theodas, Thaddeus, and Judas were really the same name differently pronounced, and that the Theodas here spoken of could have been Judas, son of Ezechias, of whom Josephus (Antiq. xvii. 10, 5) speaks. Still others think there may be question here of a Judas who caused an insurrection in 4 B.C. (Antiq. xvii. 6, 2).

At any rate, we must reject absolutely the opinion of some rationalists who say that St. Luke here made a mistake. Aside from inspiration, St. Luke always shows himself well informed, and he was the intimate companion of St. Paul, who had studied under Gamaliel. If, then, there is a disagreement between St. Luke and Josephus, either they are speaking about different persons, or the error is to be attributed to the latter. As a matter of fact, Josephus is not always correct in his chronology, and is not at all times consistent with himself.

37. After this man, rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the enrolling, and drew away the people after him : he also perished; and all, even as many as consented to him, were dispersed.

Judas of Galilee. Josephus (Antiq. xviii. 1, 1 ; xx. 5, 2) speaks of this Judas as a Gaulonite, from his native place of Gamala, in Gaulonitis; and as a Galilean, from Galilee, the province where he resided, and the principal scene of his revolution. His followers were called Zealots. In the days of the enrolling, about a.d. 6. The uprising under Judas was posterior to that of Theodas. With these two instances Gamaliel tried to influence the members of the Sanhedrim not to use violence in dealing with the Apostles, who, as he thought, would finally abandon their crucified leader, as these revolutionaries had abandoned theirs.

38. And now, therefore, I say to you, refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
39. But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God. And they consented to him.

If this work be of men, it will come to nought (καταλυθησεται): but if it be of God, you cannot overthrow (καταλυσαι) it. These two Greek words are both derived from λύω (luō), meaning to loosen, break up, destroy, throw down, etc. The first of the two words call to my mind Jesus’ statement in Luke 21:6 concerning the Temple: the days will come in which there shall not be left a stone upon a stone that shall not be thrown down (καταλυθησεται).  recall that the captain of the temple guards and those under his authority played a major role in bringing the disciples before the authorities (verses 22-25). The second word calls to mind the accusation leveled at Stephen: we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy (καταλυσει) this place (Acts 6:14).

40. And calling in the apostles, after they had scourged them, they charged them that they should not speak at all in the name of Jesus; and they dismissed them.

Scourged them. The Sanhedrim had not the power to condemn to death; but they could, by the permission of the Romans, condemn to scourging and to prison.

41. And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus.
42. And every day they ceased not in the temple, and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus.

Fortified by the Holy Ghost the Apostles were glad and joyful in their sufferings, thus following the instruction of their Master (Matt 5:11-12). And far from being deterred from preaching, they labored and preached all the more zealously. See Acts 14:22~through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.

3 Responses to “Father Callan’s Commentary on Acts 5:34-42”

  1. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 5:34-42). […]

  2. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 5:34-42). […]

  3. […] Father Callan’s Commentary on Today’s First Reading (Acts 5:34-42). […]

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